For Metastatic Breast Cancer Patient, DF/BWCC Milford ‘Feels Like Family’

Published January 28, 2017 by Deb Ragosta

I was recently interviewed for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Insight newsletter. Many thanks to writer Saul Wisnia for bringing my story to life.

Don’t Stop Believing!


May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

It’s ALL About Time

Published October 14, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

Check out my submission for It’s About Time MBC:

Deb: It’s ALL About Time

Keeping My Head Above Water

Published September 10, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

Over the past seven years, I’ve had many people who either know or just found out I have stage IV breast cancer, say something like “You’re always so positive and upbeat. How do you do it?” My response is something like “what choice do I have?” or “what’s the point of complaining or feeling sorry for myself?”  I try not to use the “cancer card” but admit I have mentioned my disease when trying to get my point across to health insurance reps or even my condo association when trying to get it to throw salt on my sloped parking spot to melt the ice so I can actually get to my car in the winter (the bone mets has affected my back.) 

As much as I would like to think I am in total control of my feelings and reactions involving my illness, deep in my heart and mind, I know I am not. In fact, if I am totally honest with myself, the facade I wear to those around me is far from what I’m actually hiding.  It took me a while, but I was finally able to recognize and admit that I am no more immune to the worry, fear and lack of control that a cancer diagnosis brings than anyone else. Since my diagnosis and for the rest of my life, I will be trying to keep my head above water – just like everyone else who is dealing with a terminal disease.

When my bone metastasis was discovered in 2009, I spent a fair amount of time on the internet investigating stage IV breast cancer. I had no idea that even after all those “pink for a cure” years, and nearly 20 years since my stage one diagnosis, there was no cure! Once I wrapped my head around the fact my disease was now terminal, the next step was to find a site that would tell me exactly how much time I had left. The statistics I did find were downright scary, to say the least. They varied slightly, but the one that still stands out in my mind stated that only 14% of patients with stage IV breast cancer survive for five years (although, thankfully, this statistic has improved since 2009.) That one sent me reeling and searching for help. I tried a support group for metastatic breast cancer patients, but the drive to get to it was long and only four or five women attended. Having attended a general breast cancer support group for five years in the 1990’s, I didn’t think a general group would be the right fit for me and my new diagnosis. If anything, I was a walking advertisement of the fact that regardless of the amount of time that goes by after a stage one diagnosis, we are never totally free of the demon that may be growing inside. That’s a tough thought for newly diagnosed women and I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news at a time they were looking for positive reinforcement. I found an on-line support group, on which I still go to every day to read other’s posts and post my own questions or comments. Many of the women who join the group when they are first diagnosed are scared and looking for answers. Some of those go on to be the strength of the group with their knowledge, advocacy and support. We lose many – an ugly reminder of the reality of metastatic breast cancer, but there are a few women who are either nearing or have passed the 10-year mark since their diagnosis.

I started this blog in 2010 as a way to help myself come to terms with having metastatic breast cancer. I’ve facilitated several “Writing About Cancer” workshops and I’m active on Twitter (@debragosta) always pushing my #DontForgetBCMets hashtag and supporting others by spreading our message. Although I’d like to think I do these things to help others, getting involved in even a small way has helped me become a part of my new world.

I would be lying to myself to even think I’m at a point where I am at ease with my diagnosis or that I ever will be, but I have accepted that fact. There is no chance of my ever being able to forget I have stage IV breast cancer. Having to get lab work and see my oncologist every four weeks makes it impossible to put my diagnosis in a lock-box and tuck it away. Abnormal lab results can cause an anxiety attack, not to mention waiting for scan results. In the almost seven years since my stage IV diagnosis, I have been on eight different treatments, as anything perceived as a possible progression may indicate a time for a change. My breast cancer is in my bones only and I’ve never had IV chemotherapy. Once it begins to attack my organs, however, I know there will be more medication changes and I will eventually receive IV chemo. I am afraid of progression, but there are few people I can share this with because everyone around me wants to believe, as they often say, “you’ll be fine.” Sometimes, I want to scream, “NO – I won’t be fine!” Of course, then I risk being labeled as “Debby Downer.” (I’ve actually lost a very close friend because she couldn’t handle my diagnosis and I mistakenly thought I could share my fears about having BC mets with her. Strangely, losing her as a friend bothers me more than having to tip-toe around my disease with several close family members. I looked at her as a source of strength and I was wrong. That will sadden me for the rest of my life.) Although I would love to take well-intentioned advice to “put it out of my mind” or “try thinking about something else,” it’s simply not that easy. In fact, every day can be a struggle.

The reality of having metastatic breast cancer, however, is that I won’t be fine. Although my medications will change and I know the cancer will eventually spread to other parts of my body, I will continue taking one day at a time. I will live every day of the rest of my life just trying to keep my head above water.

Don’t Stop Believing!


May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Diagnosis: Cancer

Published June 19, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

No one wants to get a cancer diagnosis. No one wants to have a loved one or friend who gets the diagnosis. For those of us who live with metastatic cancer, regardless of the type of cancer, it is another reminder that despite the progress being made with new drugs and treatments, we are still a long way from a world where cancer is no longer the devil who picks and chooses its victims without discrimination and often, without warning – ruining lives, families and hopes for the future.

Because I have lived with cancer through myself and others, I am especially sensitive when someone I know gets bad news about their cancer. I’ve lost family and friends to cancer, but it never gets easier. Although the grief eases, it never heals completely. My sadness for them can make me feel guilty because I am doing well, but I watch with awe the dignity and grace with which they face the disease that is slowly taking their lives. I wish I had the right thing to say to them or their family members. I applaud them for being so open and realistic about their illness and wonder if they realize that they may be leaving a lasting mark on another person – one that can be so empowering, it can never be measured and will never be forgotten.

One of my metsisters has been told her options are running out. She writes a blog and posts frequently on Facebook.  She will never know how much her honesty, openness and courage in the face of reality has helped me and continues to support me in my own journey with stage 4 breast cancer. She is my hero and I have told her that many times.  (Several years ago, before my mets diagnosis, one of my closest friends passed away from breast cancer. I never told her how much she taught me about staying strong in the face of devastating reality.  I will always regret not doing so.)

A much-loved family member recently finished whole brain radiation for lung cancer that spread to his brain. My heart is breaking because for many reasons, not the least of which are the wonderful childhood memories I have of spending time at his house with him, his wife and daughters. (Back in a time when families visited with their families on Sundays.) He was always so funny and always had the right thing to say to make everyone laugh. I was a “step child,” but he and his wife never treated me  any differently – even long after my mom step-dad divorced. I wish I could do something to ease her fear and sadness, but I don’t have a magic wand to make everything better.

We all deal with adversity in different ways, but there is no right way to process a cancer diagnosis. It’s different for every patient, every family member and every friend. Diagnosis: Cancer can be the worse news we will ever get, either for ourselves or for the people we love, but not letting cancer define us and our lives may make the difference between keeping our heads up, or drowning in a sea of despair. In the end, all we can do is the best we can do to stay strong and not let the cancer beast defeat us.    

Don’t Stop Believing!


May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Our Easter Miracle

Published March 27, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

Living my life as a woman with metastatic breast cancer really isn’t much different than how my life would have been had I never had breast cancer. I was diagnosed with bone metastases 6 ½ years ago and have had no progression or spread. I know how blessed I am but I also know that the odds are pretty good that, at some point, my cancer will take off and living with it won’t be as easy. Regardless of what lies ahead for me, however, I will never let having stage 4 breast cancer turn me into a woman who misses the blessings given to me every day. Some of them, such as the births of my grandchildren are so powerful, I can embrace them without the cloud of illness blocking the rays of sunshine that are meant for me. How sad would it be if I let the fact of my disease take away the pure joy of the life I live?

At Easter, Christians celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a time of warmth, renewal, rebirth and alleluias. Like many celebrations, both religious and secular, Easter is a family, food and fun holiday – all wrapped into a colorful basket filled with candy and delivered by the second most anticipated once-a-year memory from our childhoods – the Easter Bunny. (Where does E.Bunny get all that candy?)        

I believe that every so often, something happens that is so amazing and special, we refer to it as a “miracle.” If you’ve read my last two blogs or you are my friend on Facebook, you may know that for the last two months my pregnant daughter has been hospitalized due to complications caused by a minor car accident. She was 21 weeks pregnant when the accident happened and fought hard to hold onto her baby until at least a much more viable 28 weeks. 

Many people believe there are no such things as miracles, but I know they exist because I’ve been touched by them in my life in the form of events and things that could not be explained by logic, reason or science. Because I believe in miracles, I can recognize them and embrace them. Last Sunday, March 20th, my precious granddaughter, Natalie came into this world after 28 weeks and 2 days in utero. She weighed 2 lbs., 12 oz. and measured 15 ½ inches long. She’s in the neonatal intensive care unit and will be hospitalized for many weeks, but so far, she’s healthy and perfect in every way. At the time of the accident, physicians gave her a 50/50 chance of survival. Now, she is on her way to breathing on her own and is getting stronger every day. For me, her parents, other grandparents and extended family, little Natalie is so much more than her big brother’s little sis, her parent’s second child and her grandparents’ second grandchild. She is our Easter miracle.

Miracles can and do happen. We just have to be open to recognizing them and realizing how blessed we are to be in their paths. 

Don’t Stop Believing!


May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Life Happens – An Update

Published March 15, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

Just a quick note to tell you my daughter was able to leave the hospital today. She is at 27 weeks/4 days of her pregnancy, but her physicians decided she could go home to strict bed rest. She must have weekly ultrasounds and OBS checks, but the baby already weighs approximately three pounds and is doing well.  

Thank you for all the thoughts, prayers and kind words. Although we all experience life’s unexpected challenges, we never know our real strength until we come out from the clouds to feel the warm healing that surrounds us. It’s there for the asking – from our friends, family, spiritual connections and religious beliefs. We just have to know anything is possible, as long as we NEVER stop believing.

Don’t Stop Believing!


May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

Life Happens

Published February 24, 2016 by Deb Ragosta

For many people dealing with serious illness, the shock of the diagnosis is often enough to put us into an emotional place where it’s easy to ignore the life going on around us. We get so focused on the shock of our new reality that we can easily find ourselves already beginning treatment before we have time to process and accept all that is going on. For me, when the shock of hearing “you have stage 4 breast cancer” wore off, I had to face and accept that I would be in treatment for that cancer for the rest of my life. Treatment would never end and I was officially a breast cancer “lifer.” My life would go on, but so would all the ramifications of knowing I would always be one tumor marker or progression away from yet another treatment change.

As, with life, however, none of us live in a cocoon and we must live with all that goes on around us – having nothing to do with our health situation, but everything to do with the fact that the world doesn’t stop because we’ve been hit by an unmoveable iceberg.

In the 6-plus years since my mets diagnosis, I’ve experienced many non-cancer related, albeit life-changing events. I’ve lost a job that I loved, I’ve become a grandparent for the first time and I’ve watched my own child settle into a life filled with all I ever wished for her. I put the negative things into my “it could be worse” category and the positive things have been added to my completed “bucket list.” I try to put perspective into everything that happens and that usually smooths things out for me and helps make my life more normal.

While we react to unexpected joys and traumas in different ways, occasionally, our reaction when we are affected by something that is beyond what we have ever prepared for can’t be imagined until it happens. If we win millions of dollars in the lottery, although we may have dreamed about that possibility throughout our lives, we will never know how we will react until it actually happens. Similarly, while we assume we are safe in our cars because we are good drivers, a split-second decision (or lack, thereof) of another driver can can change lives forever.

Recently, my adult daughter was involved in an accident when she was stopped at a red light and was hit from behind by another driver. It was a minor accident and at another time, would have given my daughter nothing more than shoulder bruises from her seat belt. The air bag never inflated. What turned this from fender-bender to horror is the fact that at the time of the crash, my daughter was 21 weeks pregnant with her second child. Except for a very short discharge, she has been hospitalized since the crash and will be until her baby girl is born. Every day is a gift and allows the baby to grow and get stronger. If she holds off until 28 weeks, there is a great chance she will be perfectly normal. The odds go down if she is born in the next 3 weeks, they go up for every day from 28 weeks to 34 weeks.  

Needless to say, since the accident, I haven’t thought about my own health situation. Even having metastatic breast cancer (and respiratory issues related to a medication I was on for the cancer) seems trivial and minor compared to my daughter’s situation. Healthy babies are born all the time and we tend to take for granted that ours will be healthy and normal as well. How could I possibly feel sorry for myself when my child is fighting for her child? Of course, I can’t and don’t, but her situation has caused me to pause and look at my own journey.  

What I’ve realized is that in the grand scheme of my life, having stage 4 breast cancer isn’t the worse thing that can happen. Yes, it’s bad and not what I expected or wanted, but in the end, there is so much more that can affect and change me. After watching my daughter and son-in-law deal with their situation over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that in the end, the reality is that life happens and as much as we think we can control our lives, we really can’t be in total control. Whether we are dealing with the negatives or the positives of life, all we can do is try to make the right choices and hope others do the same.  

Don’t Stop Believing!


May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.

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